Woodcut from the title page of a 1499 pamphlet published by Markus Ayrer in Nuremberg. It depicts Vlad III "the Impaler" (identified as Dracole wyade = Draculea voivode) dining among the impaled corpses of his victims. (Image: Wikipedia)
The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.
Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 49th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day — but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.
- Putin’s Poison Pill for Russia’s Future. Ever more analysts are pointing to the ways in which Vladimir Putin has hollowed out the institutions of the Russian state and society in order to maintain himself in power. But few have pointed out that the Kremlin leader’s actions represent a poison pill for Russia’s future, something that will make it far more difficult for Russia to recover after he goes. Meanwhile, a Russian historian discussing the origins of the state suggests that too much emphasis has been placed on the role of the Mongol horde. According to his research, Moscow rulers also focused on the “effective management” styles of Vlad the Impaler (more commonly known as Dracula) and the Ottoman Porte.
- Medvedev Keeps Getting in Trouble. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, around whom a new scandal about a dacha he is building is now swirling, continues to get in trouble for his remarks. He tweeted that the Kerch bridge would finally mean that Crimea would be part of Russia, a position that contradicts Moscow’s insistence that it already is. Within a few hours, the premier’s tweet was removed from Twitter. Earlier in the week, Medvedev sparked bitter laughter by his insistence that all Russians now have cars. Among the nastiest remarks were that his words recalled the Soviet joke about ownership of planes. That anecdote held that in the future, all Russians would have planes, thus allowing them to fly to wherever deficit goods were being sold. Meanwhile, a government official in the Transbaikal won plaudits at least in the local media for openly criticizing what he said was Medvedev’s meaningless and even offensive visit to that hard-pressed region.
- Moscow Spending 25 Percent of Budget on Arms, Highest Since Andropov’s Time. Several analysts have concluded that Moscow is now spending 25 percent of the federal budget on the military, an amount that constitutes five percent of the country’s GDP and one that is the highest since the time of Soviet leader Yury Andropov. The finance ministry has called for cutting back on at least the public amount the Kremlin is spending, but Moscow commentators suggest that is likely more for show than reality given that Putin can and does hide defense spending in many ways. And many say that spending may go up with the regime extracting even more from the population amid reports that a significant portion of Russia’s nuclear weapon triad isn’t in working order.
- The Russian Economy Only Gets Still Worse for Most. Each day brings fresh evidence that the Russian economy is in ever deeper recession. Among the stories this week: 7500 tons of counter-sanctioned products have now been destroyed, there isn’t enough milk in many parts of the country, capital flight has slowed but only because there is less of it around, those Russians who are lucky enough to have jobs are working longer hours and getting sick more often, bankruptcies and failures to pay salaries are increasing, Russian incomes have now fallen to where they were when Putin began his rule and more are protesting that incomes now back to early 2000s, and scholars are protesting government cutbacks in support for education and science. But the children of the top elite are doing very well, thank you. They live abroad (for a list, see here).
- Putin ‘Solves’ Russia’s Economic Mess with Lies, False Statistics, and Ban on Bankers Going Abroad. Given Russia’s economic problems, Vladimir Putin has adopted a three-pronged strategy to “solve” them, including the issuance of false statistics, lies about the situation combined with expressions of concern, and calls to prevent bankers from leaving the country. And his aides have been forced to concede that one bright spot no longer is quite so bright: Russia may not be able to earn as much from the sales of grain abroad because of falling prices and problems with the quality of Russian grains.
- Moscow Destroying the Environment but Working to Ensure No One will Know. Global warming is hitting Russia hard, but the Russian government by its support for untrammeled actions by Russian companies is doing even more at least in the short term. But the Kremlin is hoping no one will find out or place the blame. Pro-regime commentators say the liberals are to blame for the destruction of the environment and Russian officials are declaring environmental groups foreign agents and even on occasion sending their allies to beat them up. The regime is also attacking groups like IRI for their support of regional media outlets, many of which are the most important monitors of what companies and the Russian state are doing in this area.
- Russians and Probably the Kremlin Too Welcome End of Duma Election Campaign. Many Russians are appalled at the way the election has been conducted, the obvious misuse of power to determine its outcome, open bribery of voters, and obnoxious and sometimes double entendre signs for various candidates. Many are likely not to vote at all, but that may in fact please the Kremlin which, observers say, is less interested in high participation rates than control, especially as there is growing evidence that the regime’s crackdown on the opposition may have had the unintended consequence of mobilizing more people to vote for its opponents.
- Russians Assume Places with Presidents are Countries. One reason Vladimir Putin has sought to force all non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation to stop referring to their top official as a president is that a survey has found that many Russians assume that any place that has a president must be a country. At present, Tatarstan is fighting to retain that office. Another survey show that Russians express radically different opinions of their political leaders in public and in private, just as in Soviet times.
- Is Moscow Going to Launch Its Own Porno Site as Part of ‘Import Substitution’ Program? The decision of the Russian government to block the Russian-language versions of Internet pornography sites (but not those in other languages, at least not yet) has sparked widespread discussion this week, with some complaining that Russia is ever more puritanical, and others suggesting that the powers that be may be ready to launch their own pornography site, especially since they turned down an offer from Pornhub to drop the ban in exchange for premium membership status ( and ). Whatever the outcome, Moscow is profiting from the pornography industry: sales of Russian sex toys are enjoying among the largest year-on-year growth abroad of any Russian industry.
- Russia Threatened by Epidemics as Result of Global Warming and Moscow’s Policies. Russia faces the threat of dangerous epidemics in the north and in the North Caucasus because of global warming. But these are intensified by cutbacks in medical care, opposition by federal officials to vaccination programs, and by Russian plans to slaughter some 250,000 reindeer unlikely to be disposed of properly.
- What is It about Tuva? Now Bill Gates Wants to Go There Too. At the end of the Soviet period, American physicist Richard Feynman attracted attention to Tuva when he said he wanted to go there because he had long been fascinated by that republic’s unusual stamps. Now, Microsoft’s Bill Gates has expressed the same desire. Feynman, whose interest was described in Ralph Leyton’s “Tuva or Bust,” never made it, but Gates is likely to. If he goes, he will find a republic whose people are still fascinated by the stamps Tuva issued while independent but also one where many Tuvan national traditions are under pressure from Russia and Russians.
- Muscovites Watch ‘Stalinist Arrests’ as Statues to Dictator Go Up Elsewhere. As part of the celebration of the city’s day, Moscow organized a sketch showing actors dressed as Stalin-era NKVD officers arresting people as they did massively in the 1930s and 1940s. Meanwhile, Stalin is making a comeback in Russia in other ways. Some parents have named their child “Stalin,” and Stalin statues and squares are reappearing in many Russian cities. In one case, the new statue to Stalin will be put in the place where there had been a monument to his victims.
- The Road to Hell in Russia is ‘Being Paved with Good Intentions.’ A sign that says more than its authors probably intended has gone up in a Russian city: It declares that “this road is being paved” by a company known as and presumably for its “good intentions.”
And six more from countries near Russia:
- Kazakhstan’s Army Trains to Fight in Cities. Astana has announced that the Kazakhstan army is training to fight in cities, an indication that the top elite is worried either about revolts in some of them or a possible hybrid war against that country.
- Kazakhstan Creates Ministry for Religion and Civil Society. Astana has elevated from state committee to ministerial status the officials responsible for overseeing relations with religious groups and promoting civil society.
- Russian Occupiers have Made Crimea ‘a Concentration Camp,’ Poroshenko Says. The Ukrainian president says that the Russian occupiers of Crimea have transformed what had been a vibrant civil society there into “a concentration camp” in which the authorities trample on the rights of its residents. The occupiers are setting up special forces to fight what they say are Ukrainian “diversionists” and have called on residents to have more children to support the state. More significant as an indication of Moscow’s intentions about Crimea is that the Russian government has declared that the Black Sea area around Crimea does not belong to Ukraine.
- Despite De-Communization Effort, Ukraine Allowed Brezhnev Statue to Remain. City officials in Ukraine found a way to keep a statue of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the Ukrainian city where he was born. They proclaimed the statue to be a part of the Soviet Myths and Realities exposition at the local museum.
- Transdniestria Vote Intended to Ape Donbas and Pressure Kyiv. A referendum leaders of the Russian breakaway Transdniestria “republic” in Moldova have planned is all about copying what has been taking place in Ukraine’s Donbas and putting new pressure on Kyiv from another direction, observers say.
- Tashkent Police Seeking Those Who Disputed Official Date of Karimov’s Death. Even after his passing, Islam Karimov is a political issue in Uzbekistan, where the police have announced that they are seeking to track down those who have suggested that the Uzbek president did not die on the day that officials have suggested.
- “Sexy Lenin” and other neglected Russian stories this week
- “Russian troops, not terrorists killed Beslan hostages” and other neglected Russian stories
- “Reposts are the Soviet anecdotes of today” and other neglected Russian stories
- Neglected stories from Russian-occupied Crimea
- ‘What do French prostitutes, Kremlin media and Duma deputies have in common?’ and other neglected Russian stories
- “Just how bad is Russian economy?” and other neglected Russian stories
- “How many Putins are there?” and other neglected Russian stories